Christian author's book sparks charges of heresy
Rob Bell is under fire for his latest book before it even hits the shelves.
March 1st, 2011
06:00 AM ET

Christian author's book sparks charges of heresy

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Rob Bell, a pastor and author who has achieved rock star status in the Christian world, is preaching a false gospel, his critics say. And some of those critics are Christian rock stars in their own right.

The pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bell has authored a book called Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, which ignited a firestorm of controversy over the weekend, weeks before it arrives in bookstores.

On Saturday, in a blog post on the popular Christian website The Gospel Coalition, Justin Taylor blasted Bell's new book, out March 29, for teaching "false doctrine":

I’m glad that Rob Bell has the integrity to be lay [sic] his cards on the table about universalism. It seems that this is not just optimism about the fate of those who haven’t heard the Good News, but (as it seems from below) full-blown hell-is-empty-everyone-gets-saved universalism.

Universalism, in its broadest terms, preaches that everyone goes to heaven and that there is no hell. Critics say it represents a break from traditional Christianity, which they say holds that heaven and hell are very real places. In most Christian circles, universalism is a dirty word.

Taylor's post was quickly tweeted by several prominent pastors, including John Piper and Mark Driscoll, connected to the Gospel Coalition, a coalition of theologically conservative evangelical churches, and a full-blown theological controversy was on. By Monday, Taylor's response post had racked up a quarter million hits.

Other bloggers, meanwhile, are calling Bell an outright heretic.

Bell is not the first prominent Christian pastor to be recently accused of wading into theologically troubled waters. Bishop Carlton Pearson, once a mentee of famed Pentecostal televangelist Oral Roberts, has been run out of two churches and branded a heretic for preaching what he says is a gospel of inclusion with broad universalist themes.

Last year, Brian McLaren - a popular Christian author and a former pastor - was accused of breaking with Christian orthodoxy and delving headlong into universalism in his book A New Kind of Christianity.

But it's rare that theological arguments become top ten trending topics on Twitter, as Rob Bell did on Saturday.

“To be honest, it was a pretty rough weekend,” Taylor said in a phone interview. The 34-year-old heads the editorial content for Crossway, a Christian publishing company in Wheaton, Illinois.  Taylor he says his blog expresses his personal opinion not the opinion of the coalition.

"We’re talking about the big things here, things that have been historically defined as orthodox, " he said. "I have a high degree of confidence in what God is saying and what we can understand."

Though many things that separate Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians, “this isn’t one of them," Taylor said. "We’ve historically agreed on many things, the person of Christ, heaven and hell. This isn’t a peripheral academic debate. What Rob Bell is talking about gets to the heart of Christianity.”

Taylor has not read Bell's forthcoming book in its entirety. His blog post was in response to the description released by Bell publisher HarperOne and a promotional video that features Bell.

"Rob Bell hasn’t sinned against me personally,” Taylor said, which is why he did not go to Bell before making his comments public. Instead, Taylor said, Bell's book represents a clear example of false teaching.

In the promotional video Bell refers to the nonviolent Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, and asks, "Gandhi's in hell? He is?"

"And someone knows this for sure?" Bell continues. "Will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell? And if that's the case how do you become one of the few? "

The video follows a trend in Bell's career as a pastor: he has long asked tough theological questions and challenged traditional answers. The short promotional video raises lots of questions without offering definitive answers.

"What we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like," Bell says in it. " The good news is that love wins."

Those lines raised eyebrows for Taylor and others. "It is not preaching the gospel as found in the New Testament," Taylor said. "The New Testament is pretty clear if someone preaches a false gospel… that we are to reject that and have nothing to do with them."

For all his hipster leanings - including black rimmed glasses - Bell has a traditional pedigree. He went to Wheaton College, the Harvard of Christian schools, and later graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity.

But the Mars Hill Bible Church, which Bell founded, is not attached to any denomination. Were it attached to one - the Presbyterian or Catholic church, say - his book and video could raise eyebrows in the hierarchy and might lead to a church trial that could result in Bell's expulsion.

"A larger denomination would take his credentials and excommunicate him like they did to me,” Bishop Pearson told CNN.

By Sunday evening, Pearson was getting sent articles about the Bell flap. He said it reminded him of his days as a charismatic leader of a big church in the largest Pentecostal denomination. His questioning of hell from the pulpit led to his ouster.

"What happened to me is happening to Rob Bell," Pearson said. "If you denounce hell, it's like you are denouncing God. You’re going to be called a heretic."

“I thought my people loved me and would walk through the valley of the shadow of death with me, but they didn’t,” Pearson said.

Bell's church did not respond to requests for an interview. His Twitter feed has been silent since he posted about writing a piece for CNN's Belief Blog a few weeks ago. His publicist at HarperOne said he would not be doing publicity until his book hits shelves.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Leaders • Michigan • United States

soundoff (2,200 Responses)
  1. forevercarsick

    1. I find the concept of "Orthodox Christianity" an amusing moniker at best and an outright lie at worst. If my history lessons are correct, then the only christian sects that can claim any kind of orthodoxy would be Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox churches. I'm no church apologist, but facts are facts.

    2. I find "Orthodox Christians" to be a joke unto themselves. They are like the Scribes and Pharisees that the Savior, that they so publicly praise, himself so publicly denounced. Too many of these "faithful" forget Christ's most potent admonishment of those that seek public recognition of their piety and generosity in Matthew 6:1-6.

    As long as they continue to call for exclusion and close-mindedness, they will also continue to miss Christ's fundamental message of Love, Forgiveness, and Understanding. Maybe they can tell the rest of us whether or not Hell really does exist!

    March 2, 2011 at 12:31 am |
    • Evolution Baby

      Christianity evolved just like every other religion and philosophy and science – yes alchemy and astrology was the begining of a lot of science. Anyway just like evolutionary branches in biology, there is a hard time finding one root at the beginning or one tree top at the end. Many roots and many branches leading to many understandings for all the variety of minds in the world to apply as they find works for their life. Its is sad that like the old Steppenwolf song said we think "everyone's got to be just like us, cause there's a monster on the lose", not the FSM though unless it just represents everyone's misunderstanding of the whole which includes science, history, philosophy and all its evolving bushy roots and branches.

      March 2, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  2. Stainedundies

    People still believe this christian nonsense nowadays? Childish evangelicalism ruined my childhood and turned most people I know into fundamentalist fools. When you gonna wake up?!

    March 2, 2011 at 12:25 am |
  3. Mao

    I feel sorry for Mr Bell. Used his stuff before to generate meaningful discussion and you can find his cd's in most orthodox Christian stores.
    The Biblical redemptive hermeneutic within a covenant theology that supersedes law makes me wonder about universalism. But as most people have brought in, Christ did not abolish the law, but brought it to it's ultimate within himself. And quite frankly, Jesus does save us from sin (the punishment of and the freeing of the act itself), but not everyone wants Jesus or saving.
    The Gospel is universally offered, but not universally accepted.

    March 2, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • Kings-X

      Wait a second....isn't Abraham going to hell? He didn't accept "Jesus as his Lord and Savior". Oh wait...but he was BEFORE Christ? I get it ... there ARE exceptions to be made. Interesting... 😉

      March 2, 2011 at 12:42 am |
    • Mao

      Why do you see an exception to something that is consistent throughout the Bible? Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection paid for those who had already sinned against God, and for those yet to sin against God. It is all encompassing.
      Abraham is not going to Hell, nor Adam, nor the righteous who lived before Jesus that were under the previous covenants. Why? Because belief in YHWY God makes a person righteous (in good standing before God). As Genesis 15:6 says, "Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness."
      Previously the Jewish nation believed God would save them from the consequences of sin through sacrifices (which was a picture of the "suffering servant" who would suffer and bring righteousness to his people Isaiah 53:5 "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.") and repentance. Today Christians have that suffering servant and repentance.
      May I suggest reading the Bible in 90 days (Google it to find the reading plan), and you'll see that the Bible is one story and that is the restoring of the relationship between God and man. It's a challenge but at least you'll be that much more ahead.

      March 2, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Tao

      Christ didn't abolish the law, but he made it pretty clear to a lot of people in his time that they did not understand it, even though it had been around for a very long time. Heart vs. letter stuff. Does that really lend itself to defending that all the ancient perceptions of what the law should be, still held true, even though Jesus actions and words plainly indicate they didn't? I would argue that everyone wants understanding, which to some means saving, so maybe the explanations need to be better. I would also argue that many today make the same errors as those that Jesus attempted to correct, but unfortunately that may lead to a Bible verse war over which Gospel is more correct than the others and whether the disciples really understood Jesus' message. If they did, then why were so many versions created before Emperor Constantine said enough 300 years later, pick out the books that can justify and help me run my empire and throw the rest out? Why would a follower of Pagan cults be allowed by God to have such say over what we have today in one of the many forms of the Bible? Regardless of the professed vision before his battle "In this sign conquer" he was not baptised until just before death, following a pagan cult until then. All said though there's good if you look for it and if not you get what you want to see.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  4. Jax

    Are you kidding me? The Catholic church would try him for his right to think and his right for personal beliefs that don't hurt anyone but himself! They have pedophile priests that aren't going to trial!!!!!!!!!! His followers are responsible for their own choices in their beliefs. They can read the Bible and do research if they want to. I am a Christian and it doesn't bother me that he believes in a merciful and forgiving God who is full of grace.

    March 2, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  5. Reality

    To assist new commentators: once a week WARNING about this blog:--–

    The moderators of this blog have set up a secret forbidden word filter which unfortunately not only will delete or put your comment in the dreaded "waiting for moderation" category but also will do the same to words having fragments of these words. For example, "t-it" is in the set but the filter will also pick up words like Hitt-ite, t-itle, beati-tude, practi-tioner and const-tution. Then there are words like "an-al" thereby flagging words like an-alysis and "c-um" flagging acc-umulate or doc-ument. And there is also "r-a-pe", “a-pe” and “gra-pe”, "s-ex", and "hom-ose-xual". You would think that the moderators would have corrected this by now considering the number of times this has been commented on but they have not. To be safe, I typically add hyphens in any word that said filter might judge "of-fensive".

    • More than one web address will also activate “waiting for moderation”. Make sure the web address does not have any forbidden word or fragment.

    Sum Dude routinely updates the list of forbidden words/fragments.

    Two of the most filtered words are those containing the fragments "t-it" and "c-um". To quickly check your comments for these fragments, click on "Edit" on the Tool Bar and then "Find" on the menu. Add a fragment (without hyphens) one at a time in the "Find" slot and the offending fragment will be highlighted in your comments before you hit the Post button. Hyphenate the fragment(s) and then hit Post. And remember more than one full web address will also gain a "Waiting for Moderation".

    And said moderators still have not solved the chronological placement of comments once the number of comments gets above about 100. They recently have taken to dividing the comments in batches of 50 or so, for some strange reason. Maybe they did this to solve the chronology problem only to make comment reviews beyond the tedious.

    Raison's Filter Fiber© (joking about the copyright)
    1. Here's my latest list – this seems like a good spot to set this down, as nobody's posting much on this thread.....
    bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to post that wonderful argument:
    Many, if not most are buried within other words, but I am not shooting for the perfect list, so use your imagination and add any words I have missed as a comment (no one has done this yet)
    – I found some but forgot to write them down. (shrugs).
    c-um.........as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, etc.
    sp-ic........as in disp-icable (look out Sylvester the cat!)
    ho-mo...whether ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, etc.
    t-it.........const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, etc.
    tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, (an unexpected one)
    va-g....as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant
    ar-se....yet "ass" is not filtered!
    jacka-ss...but ass is fine lol
    p-is.....as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, etc.
    o ficti-tious, repeti-tion, competi-tion.
    There are more, so do not assume that this is complete.
    okay words that you might not expect to be filtered....!!!

    Here's a word to add to the banned list: co-co-on
    whether it's c-oc, or co-on, this is ridiculous

    March 1, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  6. Evan

    Does God pander to obsessive religious deviants who get fired up about feeling they're superior to others who will burn in a fiery Hell, while they live blissfully in Heaven?

    Think about it... God who created laws of physics, the surface of which we haven't scratched, has a vindictive country bumpkin mentality that rewards worshipers by torturing "sinners" to satisfy the bloodlust of pristine church-going religious hypocrites who wear Christianity like a tatoo?

    Fortunately we are no longer living in midieval times when Cardinals tortured heretics with devices that stretched their bodies until the arms were pulled out of the shoulder sockets, in order to cleanse the souls of those heretics in hopes of saving them for worse torture in Dante's Inferno. We have the knowledge about God's sciences to know this primitive garbage about Hell taught by churches is incompatible with an intelligent, let alone loving, God.

    March 1, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • Jeff

      AMEN!!!!! Well said...

      March 1, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Mao

      The problem is that it was also taught by Jesus himself. Luke 16:23-31

      March 2, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • Kings-X

      Mao...what was taught by Jesus himself? Hell? Please explain your point.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • Mao

      @ Kings-x
      Didn't bother to do research before posting I see. Typical of most people on here I guess.

      March 2, 2011 at 8:37 am |
  7. La Conner/jc

    If you really want to make conservative evangelical followers angery, just suggest that god loves everyone.
    Oh, they HATE that.

    March 1, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • JPF

      Doesn't the Bible say God loves everyone??? 3:16 "for God so loved the world, He gave His only...." Why would the truth that God loves everyone make someone mad? It's is written...

      March 1, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
  8. rigel54

    God is all powerful and all knowing. He created us, deliberately with flaws. He knows when and how we we fail, but he will torture us forever when we do. If I behaved like that, I would be locked away forever or executed as a psychopath. What's wrong with this picture?

    March 1, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • JPF

      You are right. A sad picture that is not true.

      I challenge you to go to audioverse.org and listen to some of the stuff by David Asscherick...

      March 1, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  9. dejah_thoris

    Wow. You people really take all these imaginary places seriously, don't you? Get some help.

    March 1, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  10. EchoBeta

    Imagine how more advanced the world would be if people spent more time reading real books .. jeez some of these people know the bible by heart . now imagine if that was a physics book.

    March 1, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • rigel54

      Amen! (haha). Or history? Biology?

      March 1, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  11. AJ

    I challenge you too to go to audioverse.org and listen to Peter Gregory or David Asscherick. I doubt you will be willing to take the challenge, but if you do, I recommend listening to Pascal's Wager by Asscherick or The Conflict in the Mind by Gregory. You will be blown away...

    March 1, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
  12. Sad Age

    George is funny, but hardly a serious philosopher. Makes you think, but if you really pay close attention, he admits his own human idiotic tendencies. The chosen phrase above is funny and sometimes true. It is a good insight for some, but don't kid yourself by over simplifying for everyone. Lots of things get lost in translation, even when thet know the language. "Out of sight, out of mind" like you might think some people would want to be, could be translated as "invisible idiots", if only understood word for word instead of trying to understand the actual meaning. Its deep, Don't fall in unless you can handle it.

    March 1, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  13. DE

    Christianity is a bogus religion. As a pious Jew Jesus would consider the teachings of christianity as blasphemous and the teachers of christianity as blasphemers.

    March 1, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • Mao

      Jesus himself was condemned by the Jews as a blasphemer... so what's your point?

      March 1, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • Inside and Out, Alpha and Omega, God is one

      He also said you can blaspheme against the father and the son but not the holy spirit. Was that because he knew worshiping the metaphors was actually just as bad as worshiping stone idols, and that the holy spirit exists in everything?

      March 2, 2011 at 12:52 am |
    • Mao

      The context of the situation was that individuals were calling the work of Jesus, "from Beelzebub [Satan]". So the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit is to reject God's work, (which Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection is God's greatest work according to the Bible). Remember, the verses before also have Jesus saying, "But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God."

      March 2, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • Tao

      But then why is it okay to blaspheme the Son and the Father? And isn't everything God's creation (work)? If not I think you erroneously limit the power of a Supreme God. Again I think the verse is talking appearances versus the reality behind them all, or in them all and around them all. To think that God looks like a man – that would be blasphemous and would it would seem that should be called humanism. All was created within the image of God. Think like that and everything makes sense, but we hold on to our egos when the truth sets before us.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  14. Max

    II challenge you too to go to audioverse.org and listen to Peter Gregory or David Asscherick. I doubt you will be willing to take the challenge, but if you do, I recommend listening to Pascal's Wager by Asscherick or The Conflict in the Mind by Gregory. You will be blown away...

    March 1, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • Ashley

      I challenge you to learn correct grammar and typing skills, and reformulate your rhetoric to include actual facts instead of issuing high school dares. Why should we be so inclined as to listen to these recordings, if you haven't the presence of mind to include any type of information gained from them? "It will blow your mind" isn't a very enticing invitation to people not involved in the use of illicit drug.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:10 am |
    • John

      That's what a challenge is. I don't think you could grasp what is being said if you did listen. Either you are interested in taking the challenge, regardless of "correct grammar and typing skills", or your not. If your not, move on.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  15. KentAZ

    I'm certainly not a Universalist and I would argue that Bell's theology is clearly in conflict with Scripture (as is the traditional "orthodoxy"). But the notion of burning in hell forever is also unbiblical–according to Rev. 20:14, hell (Gr. "hades") is eventually destroyed in the symbolic "lake of fire."

    March 1, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • rigel54

      It's all pretty silly, really.

      March 1, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  16. JPF

    II don't believe in atheists.

    March 1, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • rigel54

      And yet they exist. Yet another clear demonstration of the fallibility of "belief." Change methods. Try investigation, experimentation, evidence.

      March 1, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Jeff

      I don't believe in atheists either. That's right, put some on a sinking t-itanic and see if they don't call out to a higher power...

      March 1, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  17. wolatsim

    What is the book Bell wrote actually saying...did I miss something in the reading? Am I the only person who thinks that this issue is being blown away before the book comes out?

    March 1, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • stc

      I find it crazy that all this comes out of an advertising video and a publicist release. No one has even read Bell's book to determine what he really is saying. This hype is ridiculous.

      March 1, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  18. wwajdblogger

    I think American Jesus would kick this guy out of his church. Jesus was always dam*ing people to hell. The main themes of Jesus' teaching focused on people going to hell. Eternal dam*nation in hell is, as the critic Taylor in the article says, the "heart" of Christian doctrine. At least, that's what they taught us Americans in the 1700s.


    March 1, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • KentAZ

      Careful. There's a huge difference between "hell" (Heb. sheol; Gr. hades) and "gehenna" (lit., "valley of Hinnom"), the latter being likely what you're referring to. According to Rev. 20:14, hell is destroyed in the symbolic "lake of fire" which corresponds to gehenna.

      March 1, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • Letterless Heart

      The texts seem to indicate that the priests and pharisees and those who strove to keep the letter of the law while missing the heart of its meaning, were the ones Jesus gave a difficult time to. Don't confuse illiterate preachers with who Jesus was supposed to be. He lived in the crossroads of civilizations 500 years after Buddah, Lao Tzu, Socrates etc. lived, so though they left about 300 years out of most Bibles, the advanced thoughts and philosophies had made there way through Palestine for a long time before his birth.

      March 2, 2011 at 12:45 am |
  19. Gerry Oarde

    We simply can not accept the person of Jesus Christ and His teachings on love and heaven without accepting also His teachings on divine justice and hell. Those who accept only the teachings of Christ regarding love and heaven and reject His teachings about righteousness, justice and hell ultimately rejects Christ!

    March 1, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • rigel54

      Those teachings as "recorded" more than 100 years after his death, recorded differently by different people, interpreted and re-interpreted, translated and mistranslated over 2000 years. Religious texts as they exist today reflect more the opinions of those whose hands they passed through than the original "authors." Useful as guides for moral reflection? Yes. Meaningful as a message from the divine? No.

      March 1, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • Jeff

      So now Rigel54, you are the authority on history and mankind? How foolish...

      March 1, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • Historian

      Jeff: He's roughly correct though I will agree his heart may not be in exactly the right place. It takes time for those who truly want to know. Remember doubting Thomas? He eventually went to India and started 7 or 8 churches and has what may be the first true gospel suposed to be consisting of only Jesus' words, though the Romans saw fit to leave it out 300 years later when they constructed their version of the many Bible versions that exist..

      March 2, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • Mao

      You're advocating for things like
      "Simon Peter said to them: Let Mary go forth from among us, for women are not worthy of the life. Jesus said: Behold, I shall lead her, that I may make her male, in order that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who makes herself male shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." Gospel of Thomas verse 114
      If this is your stance then whatever floats your boat. Just, next time, make sure that you're more up-front about it so we can reject you a little more quickly next time.

      March 2, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • Historian

      @Mao – Not all speech is literal, not all translations are accurate. You need to get off the rejection power trip and try understanding a little more. I would advocate understanding and verses from the book of Thomas like 'lift up a rock and I am there, break a piece of wood am I am there too" even though my wording isn't exactly correct. The kingdom of heaven is all around and within you if you could but perceive. You don't havce to believe every last word you read, but you can learn from it all if you put your faith in God more than Satan or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It all makes sense in the end, whether anyone wants it to or not.

      March 2, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  20. WhatDoesJesusSay?

    Thinking for one's self is good, but no matter what Bell or anyone else says, we will all be held accountable for our actions. But we are own a fine line when we try to side with academia and academics. It's amazing how anything goes when opinion of what is right becomes law. I am reading a book about this very thing. I am still in the introduction b/c it is very long. So far, I love it. It screams to me what is now reality. If anyone is interested it's by John MacArthur and it's called "The Jesus You Can't Ignore: What You Must Learn from the Bold Confrontations of Christ."

    March 1, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • rigel54

      Why do you think we will be held accountable? By whom? Why? I'm sorry you're struggling with the introduction of your book. The rest of your post is a bit incoherent. "Anything goes when opinion of what is right becomes law?" Do you mean that changing beliefs confuse you? Clearly you need to be told what is right and what to do by an older, wiser person. You are a child, and wish to remain so. Others wish to grow up, and decide for themselves.

      March 1, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • Mao

      Please stop using bullying tactics to mask a lack of substance. Thank you.

      March 1, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • Agreed

      Tao Mao

      March 2, 2011 at 12:31 am |
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